Banking & Finance

Citigroup (C) Won't Make It

Douglas A. McIntyre

DataCitigroup (C) is not going to make it, at least not an an independent company. The FT has reported that the head of Goldman Sachs (GS) called Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit to discuss a merger. Goldman had converted itself into a commercial bank. Maybe it was worried it would go the way of Morgan Stanley (MS). But, the Treasury has come up with capital for all the big financial firms, so the urge to do something has probably passed for the world’s premier investment bank.

It is different for Citigroup. There things have gone from bad to worse.

Citigroup is not likely to make it as an independent company. It will not be a buyer. It will be sold.

If the bank’s stock price and analysts covering the company are right, Citi’s fate could be determined by the end of the year. Over the last month, shares in the bank are down by 40%. Rival JPMorgan (JPM) is off 2%. Wells Fargo (WFC) is up 10%. Citi’s market cap is down to $66 billion. Bank of America’s is nearly $100 billion.

In the last quarter Citi lost $2.8 billion, or $.60 per share, compared with a profit of $2.2 billion, or $.44, in the period a year ago. Revenue fell 23% to $16.7 billion

Bank analyst Meredith Whitney, who has been right more often than not on bank stocks, says that troubles in Citi’s consumer group will drive up its losses more than expected. She cut her earnings estimates on the bank to a 2008 loss of $2.87 per share and a loss of $2.65 in 2009. Citi may not have the capital to cover those losses even with the government’s cash injection.

What Whitney did not factor in just a week ago is that the credit crisis and signals of a recession have become much worse in a matter of days. Mortgage defaults are likely to rise more sharply then they have been as people lose jobs. The consumer’s ability to pay his credit cards debt will deteriorate sharply. Citi’s investment banking business is dead as a doornail. Most LBO loans are dropping in value as each week passes.

Citi will not report Q4 earnings for almost three months. It may run into awful trouble before that. The Fed and Treasury are going to have to find a merger candidate. Most likely that will be JP Morgan (JPM) because Bank of America (BAC) and Wells Fargo (WFC) are already digesting big acquisitions. Or, the government may turn around and take a majority stake in the money center bank the way it did with AIG (AIG) where it has already provided $90 billion in loans. 

Vikram Pandit will have failed. It may take a little while for that to become absolutely clear, but Wall St. can take it to the bank. Or, maybe not.

Douglas A. McIntyre